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These bouts worth more than a sequel in boxing

Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy tops the list of the best three-time matchups.

November 08, 2011|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Joe Frazier, left, lands a punch to the face of Muhammad Ali during their heavyweight championship fight in 1971 at Madison Square Garden.
Joe Frazier, left, lands a punch to the face of Muhammad Ali during their… (MCT )

Three great fights between the same boxers is a rarity in the modern era. Here's a look at some of best trilogies in recent decades.

Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier

Frazier won the heavyweight title that was stripped from Ali because of his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. Frazier's title was looked upon with a degree of suspicion because Ali was still undefeated. Ali returned from a three-year exile in 1970, setting up a long-awaited bout with Frazier a year later at Madison Square Garden. The bout was simply called, "The Fight." The relentless Frazier shut up the trash-talking Ali, flooring him with a left hook in the 15th and final round to seal a unanimous-decision victory. They met again in 1974, by which time Frazier had lost his title to George Foreman. Referee Tony Perez allowed Ali to clinch frequently in the rematch and Ali won a drab 12-round decision. Then, Ali won back the title by upsetting Foreman, setting up his 1975 rubber match with Frazier in the Philippines that was dubbed "The Thrilla in Manila." As was the case with the two previous fights, Ali taunted Frazier, making fun of his appearance and speech. The animosity fueled 14 grueling rounds, after which Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, refused to let him continue. Both of Frazier's eyes were shut and Ali was so exhausted he sat on a stool in the ring.

Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield

This was the last hurrah of the heavyweight division, which was shaken by Mike Tyson's incarceration and has since been taken over by safety-first champions such as Lennox Lewis and the Klitschko brothers. Bowe and Holyfield were undefeated when they faced each other for the first time in 1992. Unusually agile for his size, the 6-foot-5 Bowe fought Holyfield from close quarters and unloaded a series of combinations on the former cruiserweight champion. The 10th round was named Ring Magazine's "Round of the Year," as Bowe staggered Holyfield with an uppercut and battered him around the ring, only for Holyfield to close the round with his own assault. Bowe won a unanimous decision. They met again almost a year later. Holyfield won a majority decision over an overweight Bowe. Bowe stopped Holyfield in the eighth round of their 1995 rubber match.

Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales

A genuine hatred for one another fueled the sport's greatest rivalry in recent years. Barrera came from a middle-class family in Mexico City and studied to become a lawyer. He called Morales, who grew up in poverty in Tijuana, an illiterate. But Morales entered their first ring meeting in 2000 as the privileged one, undefeated and set on the course for stardom. Barrera was reeling from a pair of losses and was viewed as nothing more than a steppingstone. The two combatants traded power punches for 12 rounds, employing the strategy usually reserved for lesser-skilled fighters. Morales was busier but Barrera landed the more damaging blows and the consensus was that Barrera won the fight. The judges awarded Morales a split decision. Their fortunes reversed in the rematch, which Morales appeared to win but Barrera officially won. They met one last time in 2004, with Barrera earning a majority decision.

Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward

The violence in these three fights turned a couple of modestly skilled fighters into stars. Gatti was a former second-tier world champion. Ward was a journeyman. But their styles complemented each other. They couldn't get out of the way of a punch but could absorb tremendous punishment, which resulted in 10 rounds of cleanly landed power punches when they met in 2002. Ward, who dropped Gatti with a ninth-round body shot, was awarded a questionable majority decision. Gatti won the next two fights. The first and third fights of the trilogy were named Ring Magazine's "Fights of the Year" of 2002 and 2003. Ward retired after the third fight. A movie based on his life, "The Fighter," was released last year.

Manny Pacquiao vs. Erik Morales

Pacquiao's bloody trilogy against Morales is what expanded his devoted fan base beyond the Philippines, as the fights showcased his unrelenting spirit. Morales' height and straight punches presented the Filipino with problems. The stylistic advantages in Morales' favor allowed him to earn a convincing decision in their 12-round war in 2005. But 10 months later, Pacquiao overwhelmed Morales with improved use of angles and his previously underutilized right hand. Pacquiao dropped Morales twice in the 10th round to earn a technical knockout. A survivor of countless slugfests, Morales was already on the decline when he faced Pacquiao the first time; by their third fight, he was completely finished. Morales was stopped in three rounds by the ever-improving Pacquiao, who dropped him twicein the third.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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